Property Australia

The ‘Return to Work’ following relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions

Guidance for resuming property operations

Category

Issues

Resources

Building entry

Signage and communication at entry to building

  • SafeWork have created several building sign templates for increased hygiene and changes to building operations.
  • SafeWork Australia signage and posters for the workplace available here.

Temperature checks and thermal imaging

  • SafeWork Australia currently notes that temperature checks can be undertaken by organisations for their workers as a preventative measure. For building owners, this does not necessarily mean it is appropriate to conduct temperature checks on the workers of your tenant businesses upon entry to a building. Administering temperature checks may be required or reasonable where, for example, workers live together in accommodation or in workplaces where vulnerable people are present, such as hospitals and aged care facilities.  
  • However, for many workplaces, there may be little benefit in conducting temperature checks on workers or others. This is because temperature checks will not tell you whether a person has COVID-19. It will only identify symptoms. It is possible that a person may be asymptomatic or be on medication that reduces their temperature. It is also possible that the person may have a temperature for another reason unrelated to COVID-19.  
  • Before administering temperature checks you should seek the advice of your public health authority on the appropriate method of temperature checks, PPE and control measures for safety. You must also consult with your workers and their health and safety representatives and take their views into account.

Lobbies and common areas within the base building

 

Lobby areas
  • ensure workers and others maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres, to the extent possible
  • implement measures at waiting areas for lifts, such as floor markings or queuing systems. Also create specific pathways and movement flows for those exiting the lifts where possible (you may need to consult with your building manager or other employers in the building to ensure this occurs). You could consider engaging someone to monitor compliance with physical distancing measures where appropriate
  • place signage around lift waiting areas reminding users to practice physical distancing and good hygiene while waiting for and using lifts, including to wait for another lift if the lift is full
  •  display an advisory passenger limit for each lift – these limits could be temporarily adjusted up by one or two during peak periods where additional demand is unavoidable (subject to it not leading to overcrowding in lifts) to facilitate extra movement of workers and to prevent overcrowding in waiting areas. This may result in fewer persons travelling in a lift at any one time to ensure workers and others maximise physical distance from each other, to the extent possible

 

Lift wells and lift operation

  • Even if workers and others only spend a short amount of time in a lift each day, there is still a risk of exposure to COVID-19 that you must eliminate or minimise so far as reasonably practicable.
  • There is no requirement to provide 4 square metres of space per person in lifts, however you must still ensure, as far as you reasonably can, that people maintain physical distancing in lifts and lift waiting areas.
  • Remember, you must consult with workers and their representatives (e.g. health and safety representatives (HSRs)) on health and safety matters relating to COVID-19. This includes consulting workers and their representatives on what control measures to put in place to minimise their risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace, including when using lifts.
  • You must also consult with the building owner/manager and other employers in the building about the control measures to be implemented to address the risk of COVID-19. You may not be able to implement all of the control measures yourself but must work with others to ensure those measures are put in place.
  • Staff must not to come into work, including using lifts, if they are unwell.
  • In some cases, depending on the design of a building, stairs may be an option to reduce demand on lifts. If workers and others are to use stairwells or emergency exits as an alternative to using lifts, you must identify and address any new risks that may arise. For example:
    • the increased risk of slips, trips and falls particularly if the stairs are narrow and dimly lit
    • the risk that arises when opening and closing heavy fire doors, and
    • the risk that a person may become trapped in the stairwell.

End of trip facilities and communal bathrooms

In addition to other general hygiene measures, for end-of-trip facilities which can often be damp environments, you should work with your building owner/manager to implement enhanced hygiene measures:

  • ensure access to soap and paper hand towels or alcohol-based hand sanitiser is available at all times at the entry/exits of these facilities
  • where there are lockers – assign workers their own locker where possible, to avoid multiple users
  • provide disinfectant wipes where possible in appropriate areas to enable workers to wipe down frequently touched surfaces such as locker doors, keypad entry, bicycle cages etc before and after use
  • remove shared toiletries other than automatic soap dispensers (eg. shampoo, conditioner, deodorant etc) and other equipment (e.g. hairdryers and hair styling tongs) from bathrooms and showers and request that workers provide their own
  • request that workers continue to practice usual good hygiene for change rooms and showers such as wearing thongs or waterproof shoes
  • request that workers take all personal items with them after using change rooms or keep them in an allocated locker. Prohibit workers from leaving towels or clothes hung on hooks within change rooms and showers
  • provide and maintain waste bins for the hygienic disposal of paper towels, tissues and personal items
  • implement frequent cleaning of all areas – see our cleaning page and cleaning guide for more information.

 

Guidance on end-of-trip facilities is available at Safework Australia.

Base building operations necessary

 

Hours of occupancy

  • Extended base building operations hours to allow staggered shifts.
  • Building owners and managers should be aware that extended hours of operations can increase operating and energy costs.

 

Cleaning protocols

  • A documented risk assessment of high contact areas should be undertaken to ensure additional controls are in place, including a robust cleaning regime.
  • Usual cleaning schedules, focusing on high contact areas such as water coolers, hoist/lift controls, crib rooms and equipment, door handles and stair handrails will need to be increased based on infection control principles.
  • Work with your cleaning contractor to ensure adequate hours and resources are allocated to meet your cleaning needs.
  • Cleaning regimes in End of Trip Facilities should be bolstered to reduce the risk of transmission to users.

Public Gatherings

State and territory governments have different restrictions in place for public gatherings. Please visit your state or territory website for more information.

New South Wales

  • Public gatherings are permitted for up to 20 people.
  • Cultural and sporting events are allowed at outdoor venues with a maximum capacity of 40,000 will be allowed up to 25% of their normal capacity.

Victoria

  • Public gatherings are permitted for up to 10 people (reduced from 20 people on 20 June).
  • Physical distancing of 1.5 meters will apply to all gatherings.

Queensland

  • Public gatherings are permitted for up to 10 people under Phase 2 of the easing of restrictions which was implemented on 1 June.
  • Physical distancing measures should still be followed. Aim to keep 1.5 metres away from other members of the public.

South Australia

  • From 19 June, density requirements will remain in place but more people may gather.
  • A maximum of 300 people may gather at a venue.
  • Any separate room or area may have a maximum of 75 people (subject to the 1 person per 4 square metre rule).
  • Physical distancing measures should still be followed. Aim to keep 1.5 metres away from other members of the public.

Western Australia

  • Non-work indoor and outdoor gatherings of up to 100 people per single undivided space, and up to 300 people in total per venue over multiple spaces (100/300 rule).
  • Physical distancing, good hygiene and the 2 square metre rule apply to all activities permitted in Phase 3.

Tasmania

  • From 26 June, gathering sizes will increase to a maximum of 500 people in an undivided space outdoors and 250 people for an undivided space in an indoor premises.
  • Maximum density limits will move from 4sqm per person to 2sqm.

Northern Territory

  • No limit on people who can attend gatherings (but prior authorisation is required for gatherings that exceed 500 attendees).
  • Physical distancing measures apply to all events.

Australian Capital Territory

  • Public gatherings can be a maximum of 100 people (including staff, trainers and spectators), with one person per 4 square metres in both indoor and outdoor spaces.

 

Emergency preparedness

Emergency plan

  • All businesses must have an emergency plan. Where working operations have changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, emergency plans must be reviewed and, if necessary, updated.
  • You should think about how you would deal with a case of COVID-19 in your workplace and how the changes to your business practices may affect your existing procedures and other information included in your plan.
  • An emergency plan must include the following: 

o an effective response to an emergency  

o evacuation procedures  

o notifying emergency service organisations at the earliest opportunity  

o medical treatment and assistance, and  

o effective communication between the person authorised to coordinate the emergency response and all people at the workplace

o testing of the emergency procedures—including the frequency of testing, and  

o information, training and instruction to relevant workers in relation to implementing the emergency procedures.  

Emergency procedures

  • Workers must be adequately informed and trained in emergency procedures. Arrangements for informing and training workers must be set out in the emergency plan itself.  
  • If your emergency procedures as a result of changes to business practices from COVID-19, then workers may require additional information or training. 
  • For instance, if you have fewer workers on site as a result of physical distancing or working from home measures, you may need to provide additional information or training to ensure that key roles are capable of being performed and that all workers understand their responsibilities in an emergency. 

Workforce management

 

Planning a return to work

  • The exposure of your workers and/or customers/clients to COVID-19 is a foreseeable risk that must be assessed and managed in the context of your operating environment.
  • Splitting workers’ shifts to reduce the number of workers onsite at any given time. Schedule time between shifts so that there is no overlap of staff arriving at and leaving the workplace or have different entrances and exits to avoid interaction. 

Staff meals and refreshments

  • Workplaces may consider minimizing trips in and out of the office to reduce congestion in lifts and lobbies. Safe Work provides advice for having essentials delivered to staff.
  • Implement dedicated areas where food or parcels can be left ready for delivery so that delivery personnel do not come in close contact with other staff.
  • Consider providing a dedicated driver waiting area, where possible, with signage and floor markings to ensure waiting drivers maintain physical distancing.

Workforce screening

  • Your staff, as well as subcontractors on-site, need to know the symptoms of COVID-19 and the measures to control the risk of exposure you are adopting.
  • You are encouraged to put in place a documented system for informing workers about what you are doing in response to COVID-19.
  • Identify high-risk workers (over 70 years of age, over 60 years of age who have existing health conditions or comorbidities, and indigenous Australians over the age of 50 who have existing health conditions or comorbidities)
  • You should prepare a documented process for what you will do in the case of a confirmed case of COVID-19 on your site. The plan should cover your immediate response and returning to normal operations
  • Take preventative measures to mitigate risks (isolate workers showing symptoms, or have recently been overseas)
  • You must monitor your workers for key symptoms of COVID-19 which include fever, coughing, sore throat, fatigue and a shortness of breath

Hygiene practices

  • develop infection control policies in consultation with your workers. These policies should outline measures in place to prevent the spread of infectious diseases at the workplace. Communicate these policies to workers.
  • train workers on the importance of washing their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and drying them correctly, or using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser, before entering and exiting a common area. 
  • place posters near handwashing facilities showing how to correctly wash and dry hands and clean hands with sanitiser, and
  • inform workers of workplace hygiene standards that are expected when utilising common areas (cleaning up after yourself, placing rubbish in bins provided, avoiding putting items such as phones on meal surfaces, etc.).  

Social distancing in work areas

  • You must do everything reasonably practiceable to keep workers apart. keeping staff a safe distance apart (at least 1.5m). This applies in all areas of the workplace including desk areas, meeting rooms, crib/break rooms, corridors and in vehicles. Note that legal obligations related to Right of Entry must still be complied with.
  • 1.5m between persons or 1 person per 4 square metres.
  • Limit contact time – face to face interaction < 15 mins and close proximity < 2 hours.
  • Limiting number of people who enter office or retail floorspace.
  • You should consider and make adjustments to the layout of the workplace and your workflows to enable workers to keep at least 1.5 metres apart to continue performing their duties.
  • Where it is practical and safe to do so, review tasks and processes that usually require close interaction and identify ways to modify these to increase physical distancing between workers. Where not possible, reduce the amount of time workers spend in close contact. 

Staff who contract COVID

  • Specific guidance available on dealing with workers who contract it in and out of the workplace as well as guidelines on coming back to work after healing.

 

 

Personal Protective Equipment

  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) refers to anything used or worn to minimise risk to worker health and safety.
  • It can be used to supplement the other control measures put in place at your workplace to protect against COVID-19 including good hygiene measures, physical distancing, environmental cleaning and providing workers with information and training.
  • You must implement more control measures to protect against COVID-19 than only PPE.

Supervision of contractors by building managers required

  • Non-essential visits to the workplace should be cancelled or postponed.   
  • Minimise the number of workers attending to deliveries and contractors as much as possible. 
  • Delivery drivers and other contractors who need to attend the workplace, to provide maintenance or repair services or perform other essential activities, should be given clear instructions of your requirements while they are on site.  
  • Ensure handwashing facilities, or if not possible, alcohol-based hand sanitiser, is readily available for workers after physically handling deliveries. 
  • Direct visiting delivery drivers and contractors to remain in vehicles and use contactless methods such as mobile phones to communicate with your workers wherever possible.  
  • Direct visiting delivery drivers and contractors to use alcohol-based hand sanitiser before handling products being delivered. 

Use, and ask delivery drivers and contractors to use, electronic paperwork where possible, to minimise physical interaction. Where possible, set up alternatives to requiring signatures. For instance, see whether a confirmation email or a photo of the loaded or unloaded goods can be accepted as proof of delivery or collection (as applicable). If a pen or other utensil is required for signature you can ask that the pen or utensil is cleaned or sanitised before use. For pens, you may wish to use your own. 

  • This guidance can be found at SafeWork here

Building systems

Maintaining HVAC systems

Restarting Hibernating HVAC systems.

Restarting HVAC systems that have been temporarily shut down can carry significant risks to the health and safety of workers and other people that enter the building, if they have not been maintained and inspected in accordance with relevant regulations and standards prior to restarting. 

During periods of shutdown, cooling towers and condenser water systems in an HVAC system can build-up corrosion on the surfaces that have not been chemically treated.

When an HVAC system is shut down, the sections of the system that have been altered, abandoned or capped so that water cannot flow through (dead legs) can hold stagnant water. The bacterium Legionella can grow in the corrosion build-up and dead legs. Legionella can cause Legionellosis. This condition includes Legionnaires’ disease, a serious infection in the lungs that can be fatal.

Internal air quality and mould issues

If ventilation systems have not been operating (at least at reduced levels), occupants may face health and amenity risks when returning to the building, such as poor indoor air quality and mould. Dirty air filters may also need to be replaced before reoccupying. For more information on HVAC hygiene, refer to AIRAH’s Best Practice Guideline.

Compliance problems

Essential safety and maintenance measures must be up to date, even if the building has not been occupied. Otherwise the statutory maintenance regime will not up to date and therefore not in compliance – and the building should not be occupied.

AIRAH provides training on Essential Safety Measures. It has also recently published a revised edition of DA19 – HVAC&R Maintenance, which covers compliance maintenance.

If a complex air conditioning system has been shut down, experts should be consulted to explain the correct start-up procedures, to check control settings, and to compare the system’s operation with commissioning baseline data

Plumbing and hot water systems

  • When water is not drawn through a buildings water system over an extended period, the water becomes stagnant. The stagnation of water within buildings is typically prevented through regular water use, which brings in fresh water from the public mains (typically containing disinfectant).
  • Indicators of stagnation include a bad or “off” taste, unpleasant odour or slight discoloration. These factors can indicate bacteriological growth and pipe corrosion. Stagnation can support the accelerated growth of many microorganisms and pathogens, such as Legionella, which can cause harm to building occupants.
  • It is also possible that water left sitting for long periods of time within a building’s water system could contain excessive amounts of heavy metals.
  • It is recommended that the building manager, maintenance representative or a plumbing professional ensures that a building’s water supply is thoroughly flushed before occupancy resumes.
  • More advice available at the Australian Building Codes Board’s Advisory Note.

Public Transport

The guidance provided by States and Territories for matters relating to public transport is similar but not identical. The following advice is generally provided with small variations across all States and Territories:

  • If you are sick, have a fever or display any other symptoms of COVID-19 stay at home and avoid using public transport systems.
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow to reduce the spread of infection.
  • Check the capacity of the vehicle before boarding.
  • Allow as much distance from others as possible and respect social distancing guidelines.
  • Spread along platforms, stops and wharves while waiting to board.

More information available at Department of Health.

NSW: NSW Public Transport advice

QLD: QLD Public Transport advice

WA: WA Public Transport advice

SA: SA Public Transport advice (Adelaide specific)

TAS: TAS Public Transport Advice

VIC: VIC Public Transport Advice

NT: NT Public Transport Advice

ACT: ACT Public Transport Advice

 

Further information

For Office

For Retail

For Warehousing and Logistics

For Building and Construction

For Aged Care

 

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